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Women as Domestic Appliances and Internalized #Misogyny

July 8, 2013

by Rita Banerji

When I bring up the issue of internalized misogyny in Indian women, I’m not necessarily talking about the mothers-in-law who abuse and kill their daughters-in-law for dowry.  What I’m talking about is how women view themselves.  It is the subtle misogyny, a form self-loathing, which often passes over women, even urban, educated, working women, without their even noticing it.  

Take for instance a conversation I was having with my mother one time about one of her male relatives.  She told me, with this look of complete disgust, “He’s like a woman.”  She was referring to how he never takes a stand on nor assumes responsibility for any family project, and lets her do it all.  Does she really think that that is what characterizes a woman:  weakness, laziness, and incompetence?  I’m a woman, she’s a woman – so does that mean she sees us both that way too?  I said, “Mom, as a woman I don’t know how you feel about that statement, but as a woman, I for one, find it very offensive! There are words, adjectives, that you can use to describe him.  Why do you use the word ‘woman’ to sum up everything that’s negative about him?”  Conversely, if a woman does things right or takes charge, I’ve heard women say, “She can handle things like a man!” as if, women by nature are incompetent!

Here’s another example: an opinion column in my newspaper this morning.  This is one of the largest circulating newspapers in the country, and this piece is meant to be the funny column – a little bit of humor to lighten life for the reader amidst all the other ‘dark’ news items I suppose.   What struck me about the article, besides the dismal male chauvinism, is that it’s written by a woman!  She is writing about the break-down of her old washing machine and she speaks of it like it is female, and uses every conceivable sexist, stereotypical analogy to do so!  Below is a sampling of that:

washing clothes by hakanu

Photo by Håkan Uragård © . All Rights Reserved.

Should I have paid attention when she had complained mildly a few days back?… As I covered her up one last time, I remembered the first time I had come across her at a shop. Before that I had only seen her on TV and been bowled over by her charms. In person she was as impressive as on the TV…She was ahead of her times and to come up to her expectations…She appeared friendly enough but these initial demands made me somewhat jittery.. I know despite all her qualities she wasn’t perfect, but then, who is? How could one then grudge that she couldn’t remove lint from hubby’s dark trousers or apply Robin Blue on his white shirts? She did leave things in a tangle at times…I have a shiny new washing machine now but I guess it’ll take me a little time to change my loyalties.

 I wonder does this woman see herself as a domestic appliance?  Does she see all women as domestic appliances? Like objects that are evaluated, purchased, owned and used by households, who “despite all their qualities are not perfect” and will ultimately have to be trashed?

jaisalmer - thar desert - india

Photo by Nevil Zaveri©. All Rights Reserved.

I have often argued against the prefixing of the word ‘domestic’ to violence, for the battery that women are subjected to by intimates within their home environment.  Violence is violence.  It is a violation of a person’s human rights regardless of where it happens and who it’s inflicted by.  The phrase domestic violence puts women into the ‘domestic’ bin, along with all other domestic appliances: the washing machine, the cooking range, and the oven.  It is society, government and law saying: What a man does with his household appliances, including the woman, is his business.  He owns. He uses. He breaks. He trashes.   It’s all a domestic matter!  There is a big problem if women are nodding to that and saying — Yes!

 © The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. To share please refer to our copyright guidelines.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide.  Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies, is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide.  Her website is www.ritabanerji.com She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHERS

The photos in this post are by member photographers of The 50 Million Missing Campaign.  There are 2400 photographers from around the world who support The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s photo pool on flickr. To see more of the works by each of the photographers here click on the photos and connect to their individual sites.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2013 5:50 pm

    o rita you are again so true and right! so often have we women gulped down these discriminatory adjectives in our lives. why do we not retaliate immediately? but then i think of the following:
    again it was women only and that too from the NGO sector who tried defaming me by saying “she is always fighting” and gain points by their standards. just like my brothers used to say to their wives and my mother “whenever she comes (from my village 500 km away to pune, where they all lived) she creates a fight here. i used to support my sis in laws against the patriarchal style of my brothers, who would just not let the wives speak out their point of view and my mother would just ask me to keep quiet and say” why do you interfere in their lives?” or i would speak on behalf of my mother’s maids who were more often than not given a bad and losly treatement by my mother and also at times by the rest of them just because they were “uneducated lot”.
    if this is what you have to live with obviously you try to keep mum. but nevertheless it is important to be aware of all these misogynous trends in women themselves.

    • July 10, 2013 7:07 pm

      It is true Asha, I do find very often even in women’s ngos in India there is a perpetuation of misogyny and a defense of patriarchal systems. For e.g. I’ve seen more Indian women from NGOs rush to defend the cultural system that harbors female genocide in India, and get angry if it is criticized. But I don’t see them get angry the same way when girls and women are killed. Or raped. Then they use the word ‘sad.’ Why aren’t they angry? Why don’t they rush out in arms to the defense of women and be angry with the patriarchal system? Why are they always to tolerant of it. I think they get angry with you because you hold a mirror to them about what they need to confront — their internal misogyny 🙂 So keep going!

  2. July 8, 2013 9:21 pm

    So well said — and from an angle I have never considered before. This is a column that should make ALL women rethink how they view themselves, their daughters, and their mothers.

  3. July 10, 2013 2:32 am

    This is horrible, inhuman and a discrase. Women and girlchildren are not property. To see what is happening in India today, all this gangrapes. Young children dying, and off course women through gangrape. Mothers screaming, and calling for help, standing there hopelessly waiting for the Goverment to act. Nothing happends. It is hard to believe, that the only reason would be, that it is so few girls, and women, because in the family they hav no worth. Only boys counts. Systematcly girls has been killed, and put in the wood to die, by poor people, because they cost money, while boys bring money into to the family. The boys have to come from somone, and that is their mother. No girls, no women, and no mothers for either boys or girls. So if we allows this to continue, and if we accept that women are property. Then India as we know it will vanish in thin air. The time has come for us in the rest of the world to take action.
    I am a member of causes

  4. July 10, 2013 6:52 pm

    Men refer to cars and ships as female. Do you see this as degrading to women? They (men) do gain self esteem from association with their vehicles ! The association with ships gives women an image of power, beauty, but I agree also created and controlled by the ALL male creators!

    • July 10, 2013 7:03 pm

      I think the reason men refer to cars and ships as female is because they can buy and steer and put them on display! It’s unfortunate that sometimes when wealthy men do that with women too, as we see in socialite circles or otherwise too — women find their status in being the “trophy,” the “thing” won and owned!

  5. Man Singh Tosaria permalink
    July 11, 2013 5:48 pm

    Ms. Rita Banerji, please. You are doing a great job. I blame male folk as well as female ones. Depending upon the spread of education and will of men and women alike social change takes place, of course, slowly. Its very slow by all standards. We are lacking in imparting education more particularly in giving qualitative education. We are basically corrupt thats why implementation of laws is also not fair because men are at the helm of affairs. Men folks are prejudiced. Let us continue to fight. I wish you good luck.

  6. July 15, 2013 9:19 am

    Reblogged this on auguries14 and commented:
    “Women as Domestic Appliances and Internalized #Misogyny”

    • Man Singh Tosaria permalink
      July 27, 2013 2:57 pm

      Mm Rita, the change has got to be slow since its mind set of both men and women. Unpleasant confrontation is taking place wherever women are concious of their rights. Education is bound to play a decisive role in it. Good luck and fullest cooperation from me.

  7. August 4, 2013 8:04 pm

    Rita, a newspaper like TOI needs to publish what sells. Hence, in order to be published by TOI you need to write what sells. In today’s world we’re all consumers first and everything else second. This lady here – the author of this piece – is a consumer first and a woman second, Rita. Like most of us. She’s written what sells – even if it’s something that perpetuates negative stereotypes of her own gender. What about Bollywood heroines who dance semi-naked to item no.s (as mentioned in the “Fevicol se” post here on GenderBytes)? They’re simply making money. If that means perpetuating the belief that women are nothing but meat – well, big deal. For them.

  8. Partha Roy permalink
    August 11, 2013 7:25 pm

    We need to have pragmatic approach to support healthy development of women. Human development process with respect to mindset conditioning varies from person to person. We need to make relevent allowances in usage of word. Every effort should be made to promote gender equality in communication. Effort should be to cooperate with every woman to help to express their talents . Ultimately ,every woman should lead happy , joyful ,materially prosperous ,comfortable life as well as a life free from any exploitaWe need to have pragmatic approach to support healthy development of women. Human development process with respect to mindset conditioning varies from person to person. We need to make relevent allowances in usage of word. Every effort should be made to promote gender equality in communication. Effort should be to cooperate with every woman to help to express their talents . Ultimately ,every woman should lead happy , joyful ,materially prosperous ,comfortable life as well as a life free from any exploitaWe need to have pragmatic approach to support healthy development of women. Human development process with respect to mindset conditioning varies from person to person. We need to make relevent allowances in usage of word. Every effort should be made to promote gender equality in communication. Effort should be to cooperate with every woman to help to express their talents . Ultimately ,every woman should lead happy , joyful ,materially prosperous ,comfortable life as well as a life free from any exploitaWe need to have pragmatic approach to support healthy development of women. Human development process with respect to mindset conditioning varies from person to person. We need to make relevent allowances in usage of word. Every effort should be made to promote gender equality in communication. Effort should be to cooperate with every woman to help to express their talents . Ultimately ,every woman should lead happy , joyful ,materially prosperous ,comfortable life as well as a life free from any exploitation.

  9. January 23, 2014 3:33 pm

    Hi Rita,

    Thanks for sharing your article, this is an open note to everybody especially to women. Woman are human they should be treated equal, they had the right of happiness, live, the respect, the love. I can’t imagine it exist in some country, Hope it will be stop.

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